Slackjaw Sally stands watch

When I heard people were taking turns standing watch, I imagined them up in the rigging with binoculars. Boy, was I wrong! They were in the computer lab sitting in front of computers and taking notes in logbooks. They were watching, but they weren’t standing.

Watch standers keep track of the ship’s location and document everything the ship does. Time is always recorded in Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). That’s the time at the prime meridian. If the ship changes course or speed or deviates from a survey line, a watch stander records the UTC time and exact position in longitude and latitude that it happened. Every 20 minutes one of the watch standers also logs the ship’s exact position on a paper map as a reference of the ship’s location and survey progress. During surveys this team monitors the equipment. The time and position are noted when instruments are deployed and any time something unusual occurs. Keeping an eye on the data as it is generated allows them to identify any problems with the instruments and note the time and position when anything changes or goes wrong. They watch the magnetometer for sensor problems and the multi beam for pings that are outside acceptable values. During dredging, they monitor the tension of the tow cable.

The noon to 8pm watch: Qikuan, Ben, Dominic & Sarah (bottom to top)

The noon to 8pm watch: Qikuan, Ben, Dominic & Sarah (bottom to top)

If rock sample processing gets backed up, some of the watch standers can be reassigned to work with the rocks. There are 3 or 4 people per shift and the job can be done with only 2 when the multi beam and magnetometer are running. The three watch shifts are noon to 8pm, 8pm to 4am, and 4 to noon. The shift managers work from 2pm to 2am (Maurice) and 2am to 2pm (John). Since they currently have plenty of help standing watch, the watch standers also begin processing the data as it is gathered. They’ve set up four stations for monitoring and processing data and take turns working at each station.

I asked some of them about their favorite and not-so-favorite parts of the job. Sarah likes looking at the data after it’s processed. She said they rotate jobs every two hours, so everyone gets to do every job each shift. Most frustrating for her is discriminating between real multibeam data and noise/artifacts. Ben likes working with the multi beam data when it’s coming in clean, but finds it frustrating and tedious when we’re in high seas or shallow depths and the data needs more manual processing. He likes watching the tension meter while we’re dredging. He also likes how being on watch gives structure and specific tasks to his day. Dominic enjoys describing the rocks and helping with repairs on deck more than being on watch. On watch he likes watching the multi beam data come in. Qikuan says that the work is not difficult and it’s fun when the data are good and frustrating when the data are bad.

I joined them for awhile and have to agree that watching nice clean multibeam data come in is fun!